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Fish’ a splash in storytelling

Brandon Hollihan | Wednesday, January 28, 2004

As Hollywood and college students alike embark upon the stretch that begins with Golden Globes propaganda in film advertisements and ends in the Oscar awards ceremony, there seems to be a division between the two kinds of films made in the past year – namely, The Return of the King, and every other film. Big Fish, the latest project from director Tim Burton, may not stock up in special-effects arms against Peter Jackson’s epic, but rather instills colorful, provocative scenery and images to support a highly enjoyable narrative.The majority of the film is told in flashbacks by the ailing Edward Bloom (Albert Finney). Edward has always had a knack for storytelling, even if his stories seem outrageously lavish and incomprehensible. His personality is so amiable that he has little trouble connecting with people – except for his single son, Will (Billy Crudup), who struggles with the belief that he has never known the kind of person his father was really like. Upon hearing of his father’s undergoing chemotherapy, Will returns to his parents’ home, not only to console them as Edward reaches the end of his life, but to finally get the truth out of him as well.Ed’s stories are truly depicted as a kind of modern fantasy. Using the reliably dreamlike atmosphere of the South (ala O Brother, Where Art Thou?), the narrative takes the audience through the adventures of a young Edward (Ewan McGregor), as he tangles with a friendly giant (Matthew McGrory), becomes lost in the eerily pleasant town of Spectre and communicates with Siamese Asian twins through an Asian-to-English dictionary. The clearness and quality of the colors with which the film was shot will probably stand out the most to the viewer; Spectre’s bright green lawn sets the tone for the action that takes place there, while lavish and contrasting red colors make up Edward’s stint at a carnival. The usage of color (as well as the purposefully ludicrous inflation behind the circumstances of Edward’s tales) aides the plot, perhaps even tricking the audience at times into simply admiring the sentimentality of the stories of the ‘big fish’ – when perhaps we should be looking at the tales a little more closely.Finney is the most fun to watch, which will come as no surprise. His Edward is allowed to play off the often quizzical looks his family and friends often give him. For him, it’s all part of the game. Helena Bonham Carter also gives her usual solid acting job, albeit in a smaller role, playing a close acquaintance to the young Edward. McGregor is also solid, but his ever-smiling, always optimistic outlook towards the problems he faces is frustrating at times; sometimes it just seems too obvious to the audience that he’s going to find a solution, regardless of its obstacles, and there isn’t anything that truly challenges the kind of character he is.This, however, is not a fundamental problem for the film, because it isn’t the central thesis intended by the script. Burton (along with screenwriter John August, who adapted the screenplay from Daniel Wallace’s novel) aims chiefly at the film’s father-son relationship, and doesn’t pull the trigger on resolving its conflict until the viewer has seen the entire account presented by Edward. The subsequent conclusion may surprise some audience members, but it’s satisfying in the long run. It knots up a colorful and immensely entertaining film, and it appears that the always-creative Burton has finally found his kind of story.